top of page

The Monterey Bay Aquarium: A Bay Area Family Favorite

Updated: Jun 11, 2023

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is a world-renowned institution located in historic Cannery Row in Monterey Bay, California. It's a place where visitors can get up close and personal with over 80,000 plants and animals from the ocean and learn about the importance of conservation. For my family, it's one of our favorite places in the entire world.

We loved the aquarium so much that when we lived in San Jose, we visited it nearly twice a month. Even now that we have moved to Sacramento, we still make time for a visit. Since we've been members of the aquarium since before our daughter Marvel was born, we recently used our recent trip to decide whether or not to renew our membership. Spoiler alert: we will.

Membership at the aquarium costs $190 a year for a couple, and children under 4 are free. Adult admission on a normal day runs about $60 a person, so the membership pays for itself in two trips if you go as a family. It's a great one-day family trip and reset when you've had a crazy week. Having a membership can make the entrance line wait time smaller due to the express line, and it even offers Member Only early hours and late-night events. During our usual visits, we would usually arrive just before opening and be out of the aquarium before 12 pm. That left us time for lunch and Marvel to take a car nap home before traffic.

The aquarium's mission is to inspire the conservation of the ocean, and it does so with world-class exhibits and breathtaking scenery. With over 200 exhibits and 80,000 plants and animals, the aquarium is a window to the wonders of the ocean. The aquarium is two levels and huge, so it's a good idea to do your research and figure out your kids' favorite exhibits. This way, you can head there first thing when you arrive at the aquarium. This way, you can prioritize those exhibits and avoid disappointment if you run out of time or it starts getting really busy. Getting there early is also important. It's significantly more busy during the weekends and holidays than during the week.

The aquarium has a variety of exhibits that are sure to delight visitors of all ages. Here are some of our favorite exhibits:

  • Otter: If you need your dose of cuteness or a quick cheer up, head over to the otter exhibit and watch them through a two-level exhibit. On the second floor of the exhibit, you can watch them swim at the surface, while first-floor windows give an underwater view of their lively acrobatics. It’s conveniently located near the bathrooms, so it’s a great way to keep the kids entertained while others take a bathroom break.

  • Kelp Forest: At 28 feet, the kelp forest is one of the tallest aquarium exhibits in the world. You'll get a diver's-eye view of sardines, leopard sharks, wolf-eels, and a host of other fishes as they weave through swaying fronds of kelp, just like they do in the wild.

  • Monterey Bay Habitat: This hourglass-shaped exhibit is over 90 feet long and highlights five different habitats beneath the bay and the amazing creatures that live there, including a giant sea bass and multiple kinds of sharks.

  • Open Ocean: The largest exhibit at the aquarium, the Open Ocean exhibit, showcases a community of tunas, hammerhead sharks, sea turtles, sunfish, and more. With a 1 million-gallon aquarium and a 90-foot window, it's a breathtaking sight. Watching this exhibit being fed is the most fascinating and coolest thing to watch. It’s also where you can see multiple types of jellyfish, which is my personal favorite part of the aquarium.

  • Into The Deep: The new deep-sea exhibit opens to the public after a decade of research and innovation in partnership with MBARI in April 2022. It marks our first fully bilingual exhibit — available in both English and Spanish in person and online. There are so many fascinating creatures in this exhibit, but by far, the Japanese Snow Crabs are Marvel's favorite in the entire Aquarium.

In addition to the exhibits, there are also touch pools for kids to interact with various seaweeds and shells, as well as interactive exhibits and play areas throughout the museum. For those who need a break, there are various play exhibits and playgrounds throughout the museum. Splash Zone is a popular area where visitors can see penguins.

It's also important to note that the Monterey Bay Aquarium's cafe has some great, albeit expensive, options if you need a snack or a full meal. One of Marvel's favorites is what Andy refers to as the "$12 Turtle Doughnut". There are also water bottle filling stations throughout the aquarium, and visitors are allowed to bring in their own snacks and water bottles. If you're looking for a souvenir to remember your visit, the Kid's Gift Shop by the restrooms has a great range of options. However, it's worth noting that the gift shop in the lobby has many breakable items, and it can be difficult to navigate with a stroller. So if you have litt

If you're unable to visit Monterey Bay Aquarium any time soon, you can still get a dose of the aquarium through YouTube. They offer live cameras of the outdoor ocean, the avary, jellyfish, penguins, otters, Japanese snow crabs, shark tank, and open ocean exhibit.

Parking is available in a lot very close to the entrance of the aquarium. However, if you don't mind a short, beautiful walk along the coastline, free parking is available along Ocean View Blvd between Lover's Point and Hopkins State Marine Reserve. Keep an eye out for seals that are often found lounging on the beach.

When planning a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, there are a few helpful tips to keep in mind. For example, it's a good idea to do your research beforehand to figure out which exhibits your family will enjoy the most. This way, you can prioritize those exhibits and avoid disappointment if you run out of time. Additionally, visiting during off-peak hours and getting there early can help you avoid long lines and crowds.

Finally, if you're looking for gluten-free eats in Monterey, CA, we recommend Nacho Business and Revival Ice Cream. Nacho Business has amazing old-school nachos that send me right back to college, while Revival Ice Cream offers custom ice cream with gluten-free cones and dairy-free options. Between toppings, ice cream, and cones, you can't go wrong.

Overall, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is a must-visit for anyone who loves the ocean or just wants to have a great family day out. With so many exhibits and activities, there's truly something for everyone. Whether you're a first-time visitor or a seasoned aquarium-goer, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is sure to leave you in awe.


bottom of page